by Meghan Fitzgerald
Looking for a quick but powerful lesson in empathy? Just look at the end of the rainbow! Making a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick’s Day is not only an activity that kids love, it’s also a perfect lesson in empathy. All you need is stuff you’ve already got around the house.
Kids love this activity—there were nearly half a million searches for “leprechaun trap” in this week alone last year—and for good reason.
First, it’s really fun for kids to learn about and try to “trap” a mythical creature. The worlds of fantasy and reality are blended for kids—it’s how their brains and growing imaginations work. And, the process of planning out how you might trap or catch such an elusive and interesting character sparks both problem solving and creativity.
In our house, everyone joins in. We discuss, plan, gather materials for and build the trap as a team. We let the kids lead, but we all get involved, and different kids play different roles given their skills and age. It’s always a sweet family project.
When we design learning experiences to help young kids develop empathy, we break empathy into three components. One of those components is called Cognitive Empathy—a fancy name for the ability to think about the needs and feelings of someone else. When you make a leprechaun trap, you have to think about what a leprechaun would like or be drawn to—thinking about the needs and feelings of someone else is called cognitive empathy. This simple question is a huge task for little kids, who tend to think about the world from their own perspective.
This is a good opportunity to reflect on the “Golden Rule”—Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Really, what cognitive empathy teaches us is, “Do unto others as they would prefer.” That is how you make a trap effective enough to catch something as clever as a leprechaun!
It just takes a few steps (read our full “Outsmart a Leprechaun” DIY activity here):
For some families, it doesn’t feel like a fit to tell kids that a leprechaun may come, or for some the idea of magic or fantasy is in conflict with their faith. In either case, you can still learn about the story of leprechauns and be clear with kids that they are the product of people’s imagination. Then, use your imaginations (a superpower for sure!) to imagine how you could lure a leprechaun if a leprechaun were real. Kids get the same empathy and problem-solving benefits.
For many families, trapping feels mean somehow. My youngest feels exactly that way, pained by the idea. So, we make two structures—a classic trap to please my older kids, and an “oasis.” Rather than try to capture the leprechaun, our oasis is designed simply to please them, offering respite and relaxation. It includes things like tiny tea cups of golden tea (water and turmeric), twine and stick hammocks or cotton ball “cloud” couches one might find at the end of the rainbow.
No matter how you celebrate, enjoy the imagination and empathy that comes from asking, “What could lure a leprechaun?” this St. Patrick’s Day!
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